Senate Passes State Retiree COLA, Help for Biomass Plants; House OKs Voter Bill

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Paula Tracy photo

Pine Tree power plant in Bethlehem


CONCORD – The Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a measure to help bolster six biomass plants, passed a cost-of-living raise for state retirees and required opioids be labeled as such with a big red sticker.

The House also passed legislation clarifying the definition of “resident” for voter registration purposes.

Six biomass plants in New Hampshire got a big lift when the Senate passed a measure proponents say will save jobs, and $245 million in economic activity.

The plan is to help support the timber industry, loggers and those who provide the low-grade product to make electricity by requiring sales of that electricity through baseload renewable energy credits.

This differs from a bill that passed last year and survived a veto, which required utilities to buy the electricity outright.

That matter is still being fought in the courts and meanwhile, the biomass plants in places like Bridgewater and Bethlehem are idle. Similar to measures passed in Illinois and New York, the law there has held up in court, said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord. House Bill 183 will put hard-working men and women of New Hampshire back to work, he said.

Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said: “Without this new legislation, biomass plants would be forced to close and workers across the state would lose their jobs. The biomass industry protects the health of the forests while preserving open space for ATV and snowmobile riders to take advantage of our vast trail system. It is critical that we keep the biomass plants open and our timber industry thriving to provide a diverse energy market with stable rates for years to come.”

The measure passed unanimously and is required to go back to the House for consideration.

Resident definition

The House of Representatives voted 215-138 Thursday to pass SB 67, which clarifies the definition of “resident” to protect voters from paying “onerous” fees to the state.

House Majority Leader Doug Ley, D-Jaffrey, released the following statement:

“This bill is about fairness and protecting the right of all eligible voters in New Hampshire.  Requiring people who already have a valid driver’s license to purchase a new one simply because they exercised their right to vote is the very definition of a poll tax.

“Last term, Republicans in the legislature passed restrictive voting laws to justify Donald Trump’s outrageous excuses for losing New Hampshire.  It is time to put the people of New Hampshire above the ego of Donald Trump.  I remind Governor Sununu that voting rights are more important than acting as a shill for the president,” Ley said.

SB67 passed the House in the same version as it passed the Senate so it will go directly to the governor’s desk.

COLA for state retirees

The Senate passed a bill that would give a 20-year cost-of-living adjustment to retired state employees. House Bill 616 is estimated to cost the state $143 million. The bill passed by a narrow margin, 12-11.

Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, amended the bill to make a one-time $500 allowance to be paid to those retirees in fiscal year 2020.

Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said the retirement system is in good shape in New Hampshire compared to other states.

This is an opportunity, he said, to do something for state employees, “who’ve done so much for us.” He added 80 percent of them live in New Hampshire, pay property taxes and contribute in other ways to live in the state.

Red label opioids
The Senate voted 22-1 on a bill that would add red cap warning labels to notify consumers if a prescription contains an opioid drug. 
Sen. James Gray R-Rochester, cast the lone dissenting vote.

The hope is that the label will avoid unintended relapse for opioid addicts.
Sen. Bradley offered an amendment, supported by CIGNA, the Board of Pharmacy and others, to make the red sticker voluntary. It was defeated.

He said adding that sticker provides “a road map” for those who would illegally use the pills and would actually undermine patient safety.

Sen. Tom Sherman D-Rye, who is a physician, said the pharmacies and drug makers want control over this issue. He added that the concept that drug seekers don’t know what is in the bottle based on its name is ludicrous.

“They know what they are looking for,” he stressed.

Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said, “you can’t forget this is a crisis. We are in an opioid crisis. This is an effective tool and we ought to do it.”

Senators said testimony on the bill showed about 30 percent of people don’t know they are taking an opioid.
“Why?” said Bradley. “That’s malpractice.”

Sen. Sherman said patients recall a very small amount of what they are told after they leave the office, so there is a document that goes with them telling them everything.
“This bill gives that last speed-bump, which you can then take off,” he said of the sticker. “It clues the patient in that this is a dangerous substance.”

Independent redistricting

“We have an agreeable agreement,” said Sen. Bradley, about a bill that would create an independent redistricting commission.
House Bill 706 passed unanimously.

Sen. Melanie Levesque D-Brookline, said the current system is backward.

“It would be about the people,” she said, rather than elected parties taking over the business of drawing up maps for electoral districts. She said the public strongly supports the measure.

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